Anatole Abang hasn't had the best start to 2017. He was left out of the Cameroon squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, then had an unsuccessful trial with Danish Superliga side Silkeborg, and was subsequently released from his loan to Hobro IK (in Denmark's second tier of pro soccer). Per Hobro, he has been sent back to the New York Red Bulls "with immediate effect".
Maybe Google mistranslated "immediate". In the first 24 hours since Hobro announced Abang's release, there has been no comment from RBNY on the matter and no sign of him at the team's Arizona training camp. The squad has been hiking, so perhaps he's waiting at the hotel for his teammates to return.
The guys resting in a stream after a trail run #RBNY pic.twitter.com/rQoGcxcsTD— Andrew Vazzano ⚽️ (@AVRBNY) February 1, 2017
Or maybe he won't be (technically) back with RBNY for long. The rumor mill has already found something for Abang: a move to USL's FC Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Soccer Talk's Bryan Weigel reports "several sources" advising him that Cincy might be making a move for Abang. Calling the rumor "interesting but unconfirmed", Weigel notes the player could fill a position of need for Cincinnati and his recent release from loan to Hobro does eliminate the principal objection to the idea - it means Abang does suddenly look available.
While RBNY also has need for a forward fitting Abang's profile - i.e. one who offers a different physical and talent profile from starting striker Bradley Wright-Phillips - it should be noted that need was also present when the player was moved off to Denmark on a year-long loan. If the Red Bulls wanted Abang that badly, they probably wouldn't have let him go to Hobro. And RBNY's initial silence on the subject of Abang's sudden availability does suggest it is not quite celebrating his unexpected homecoming, at least not with immediate effect.
Abang has looked very comfortable playing in USL in limited playing time. He scored eight goals in 14 appearances split between 2015 and 2016 for NYRB II, the RBNY reserve team. He didn't ship out to Denmark because he couldn't do a job for the Red Bulls - certainly not in USL, where he had looked more than equal to the challenge. But RBNY seems to have a category of player it regards as too good for the reserves, or at least too good for extended time in the reserves. Sean Davis appeared to fall into that category, and also fell into the trap of struggling to really get serious first-team playing time.
Abang faced a similar quandary with RBNY. In 2015, (in about the same about of playing time as Davis as it happens) he scored six goals in 569 minutes in all competitions for the first team. That was an extremely encouraging return, but in 2016 he found it a little more difficult to find the net in MLS. After 221 goalless minutes spread over eight appearances, RBNY and Abang clearly decided whatever was wrong (if 3.5 games worth of minutes without a goal is really a problem) wasn't going to be fixed by NYRB II. Abang was shipped off to Hobro.
He got 10 appearances and three goals in Denmark, while also picking up more international caps for Cameroon. But he lost his place in the Indomitable Lions' squad at the last round of cuts before AFCON 2017. Part of the reason provided by Hobro for Abang's premature departure was his desire to play for a club that would provide a better platform for him to work his way back into his national team.
Would FC Cincinnati provide that platform? Maybe. NYRB II's USL Eastern Conference rival is a very different sort of club from the RBNY reserve team. Firstly, it's a stand-alone club, not the reserve outfit of a team in MLS: so performing well for Cincinnati is an end in itself, rather than a stepping stone to a place in RBNY's match-day 18. With NYRB II, Abang's reward for playing well was limited time and a spot on RBNY's bench. For Cincy, it would be more playing time, more goals, more glory.
Also, Cincinnati is on the list of wannabe MLS expansion teams, so it might not be too far away from stepping up a level to the North American top flight. It draws a very respectable crowd - an average of 17,296 in 2016.
In short, Cincinnati is an ambitious team looking for players capable of delivering the sort of performances that will keep close to 20,000 people showing up to watch. And USL has been promoted since Abang last played in it. It is now part of American soccer's second division.
Maybe that all adds up to the sort of move Abang might think worth his while. Maybe not. He will surely play somewhere in 2017, and right now the club that he is contracted to - RBNY - hasn't even formally welcomed him back (yet: a day after he was sent home by Hobro). If there is any truth to the rumor of Cincinnati's interest, interest alone might be enough to turn Abang's head, since he doesn't seem to be getting a lot of love from his present team.